In February of 2003, conflict broke out in the Darfur region of Sudan. The fight began with Sudanese rebels attacking government facilities, as the result of severe economic hardship and years of internal fighting. The government sponsered militia groups known as “janjaweed” militia to retaliate.
Had the fighting been confined to military groups, that would have been no more or less tragic than any other war. But the Janjaweed responded to the rebel attacks by launching wholesale attacks on any village in any area they considered to be disloyal to the government. For the past three years, these attacks have continued and spread. Whole cities have been and are being burned to the ground. Over 400,000 people have been killed and millions more are homeless and starving. Looting runs rampant. Mass rape happens on an unimaginable scale. At least 2.5 million people have lost their homes. At least three million are starving.
Most of the displaced men, women, and children are living in camps, dependent on the help of assistance from international groups such as UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders, protected only by a small, determined but vastly inadequate group of African Union peacekeepers. They live on less than subsistance rations and they dare not leave the camp. The women are afraid togather firewood beyond the camp borders for fear of rape and/or murder. Medicine, despite the valient efforts of Doctors Without Borders and other international groups, is in terribly short supply.
To make matters worse, groups who are trying to help are being forced to withdraw most, or in some cases all, of their personnel due to the extreme danger and lack of security. Save the Children and Relief International, for instance, were actively helping but have been forced to leave due to Janjaweed attacks on their workers and their equipment and vehicles. Oxfam, which has been extremely active in providing assistance, has had to close some stations for the same reason. Cars carrying medicine and suppies are regularly hijacked. At least twelve aid workers have been killed since May of this year.
Even in areas where less attacks are taking place, a lack of funds is drastically hurting the humanitarian cause. As the attacks increase and the numbers of people needing help swell, money dwindles. The UN World Food Program was forced to lower food rations in Darfur drastically in late April, and can no longer provide even the minimum amount of food needed to keep people alive and healthy. Conditions in the camps are so bad and the camps are so overcrowded that in some cases there is only one latrine for hundreds of people.
In 2005, the world finally began to respond to this crisis. The United Nations officially acknowledged the genocide in March of that year. The United States was slower, finally making an official acknowledgement early this year. The African Union has been trying to keep peace, but they have been told that without international aid they will have to leave at the end of October 2006. If they are forced to leave, and UN peacekeepers do not take their place, there will be no one to defend the camps and the relief workers in them. The organizations will be forced to pull their people out.
Things are only getting worse. The fighting is spreading across the border from Darfur into Chad, where many of the camps are located. More and more people are dying or being displaced. Children are growing up knowing nothing but violence and hunger. Human life is being held as something of no value, and no matter how hard the relief organizations strive to help, they can not do enough unless the concerned citizens of the international community speak up, and assert enough pressure on their governments to influence the Sudanese government to stop this unspeakable bloodshed.
It may seem that there is little each of us can do. But we are not powerless! If this was the 1940’s, and we could do even one small thing to stop the genocide being carried out in Germany at Hitler’s command, we would do so, wouldn’t we? We need to do something now!
Here’s an easy but very important way you can help: Go to http://www.darfurscores.org and check the grade your senators and representatives have earned on Darfur legislation. If they have an A or B, thank them and encourage them. If, like too many, they have C’s, D’s, or, like Saxby Chambliss of my home state of Georgia, an F, let them know that that is not acceptable. This is an election year. They will listen, especially if you let them know it is going to affect your vote.
Other things that you can do include attending rock concerts going on across the country to raise money for Darfur. Join the Rock for Darfur community on My Space and download videos and a dialogue kit (from which I took most of my facts) and educate yourself and your friends. Buy a Rock for Darfur t-shirt; your $15 investment will help support Oxfam. Make donations to groups working in Darfur. They need it desperately.
We,as citizens of the planet, cannot afford to remain silent. Keep up with the news and keep your eyes open for opportunities to speak up; to give; to help in every little way you can. Together, we can put an end to this brutal travesty of justice and save innocent lives.